Festival of Urbanism explores solutions to some of our biggest challenges

The Festival of Urbanism returns this September, with a series of free online events discussing the most pressing challenges of our time, and how urban planning and design innovations can mitigate them.

Centred around the theme ‘Endangered Urbanism’, the festival will run from 13–24 September 2021 and explore how cities can adapt and transition through the pandemic, the climate crisis, housing shocks and changing population dynamics. Now in its eighth year, it will feature conversations and debates between researchers, practitioners, community advocates and industry leaders, as well as films and podcasts focused on the existential threats facing urban environments.

Monash Art, Design and Architecture’s Foundation Professor and Director of Urban Planning & Design, Professor Carl Grodach, leads and programs the Monash component of the Festival, which is presented in partnership with the University of Sydney. The two Universities traditionally program and host a separate suite of events, however with lockdown restrictions moving the entire Festival online, this year all events are accessible across borders - one of many ways that COVID is impacting, but not defining, the agenda.

“COVID is bringing the challenges that we’ve had in cities, particularly urban inequality, to the fore,” Prof Grodach said.

“From the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve felt like this is a chance to start to grapple with problems that have been ongoing for decades in terms of suburban disadvantage and inequality, access to green space and places to exercise, as well as access to healthcare and community planning issues.

“Housing costs are still going up despite the pandemic and getting safe, affordable quality housing in places with access to resources you need like school and healthcare remains an ongoing problem.”

Although the pandemic has caused cataclysmic upheaval, Prof Grodach sees many emerging issues as a consequence of long-standing approaches to urban development.

“We’ve spent the past 20 years re-zoning industrial areas for new housing and office space and it turns out that most people can’t afford to live in the housing,” he explained.

“The industrial spaces were providing jobs which we no longer have, and as a consequence we have a lot of people shunted into food service delivery or other part-time options to stay in the essential workforce.”

Whilst the challenges are steep, Prof Grodach sees the Festival of Urbanism as a key arena to start shaping the solutions.

“Part of the purpose of the Festival of Urbanism is to recognise that we have big challenges ahead, but we also now have a forum to start talking about how things are changing or could be changed.”

“That’s why we’ve organised these different events on various topics, from differences in migration patterns to how we’re using industrial land, to development of public spaces. We’re giving people a chance to come together to talk about what we can do about these issues, see what’s changing and what’s staying the same. It’s important to reflect back on how much has happened and see that COVID is not the only issue right now, it’s more like a layer on a lot of challenges that urban planners are facing on a day-to-day basis.”

The Festival of Urbanism is presented by the Henry Halloran Trust with the assistance of the University of Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning and Monash University Urban Planning and Design. Registration for events is free and full details can be accessed here.

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